The global hunger crisis caused by conflict – and now compounded by COVID-19 – is moving into a dangerous phase, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday, stressing that without resources, a wave of famine could sweep the globe, overwhelming nations already weakened by years of instability.
Mr. Beasley recalled his April briefing to the 15-member Council, where he warned that the world was on the verge of a hunger pandemic. Heeding the warning, donors and countries – large and small – took extraordinary measures to save people’s lives, spending $17 trillion in fiscal stimulus packages.
WFP, too, is going all out to reach 138 million people this year, the biggest scale-up in the agency’s history, he said, noting that 85 million people have been reached so far. However, challenges remain.
“We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe,” said the WFP Executive Director.
Recalling Security Council resolution 2417 (2018) that called for effective early warning systems, Mr. Beasley said “I’m here to sound that alarm … the threat of famine is looming yet again.”
2021 a ‘make or break’ year
Acknowledging that governments reserves are depleting, he said 2021 will be a make or break year. “I urge you: do not walk away from our commitment to humanitarian assistance. Do not turn your backs on the world’s hungry.”
He underscored the critical importance of balancing sensible measures to contain COVID-19, with others to keep borders open and trade flows moving. It is vital to guard against unintended consequences that can hit the poorest the hardest.
Describing conditions in Africa as “a matter of life and death”, he cited calculations by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that for every COVID-19 death prevented, 80 children may die from a lack of routine vaccination.
Crisis levels of hunger in Africa, Middle East
An upsurge in violence, combined with the effects of COVID in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has sent the 15.5 million people already facing crisis levels of food insecurity skyrocketing to 22 million.
In northeast Nigeria, meanwhile, 4.3 million people are food insecure, an increase of 600,000. In Burkina Faso, where fighting is taking deeper root, the number of people facing crisis levels of hunger tripled to 3.3 million people, as COVID-19 compounds displacement, security and access problems.
In Yemen, 20 million people are in crisis, with another 3 million potentially facing starvation due to coronavirus. Because of funding cuts, 8.5 million beneficiaries only receive WFP assistance every other month.
We have seen this story play out too many times … the world stands by until it is too late, while hunger kills – David Beasley
“We’ll be forced cut rations for the remaining 4.4 million by December if resources do not increase,” stressed Mr. Beasley. “The world needs to open up its eyes to the Yemeni people before famine takes hold.”
There are no more excuses for failing to act swiftly and decisively, he said. While peace agreements like that in South Sudan offer hope, it is time for the private sector to step up.
There are 2,000 billionaires in the world with a collective net worth of $8 trillion and he called them off the side-lines. WFP needs $4.9 billion for one year to keep 30 million people from dying. “Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes.”
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